Keep your personal information out of online databases
The problem of keeping your private information private has been aggravated recently by the hacking of law enforcement networks
With good reason, cops have always been careful about keeping their personal lives separate from their professional lives. Conventional wisdom says that a cop should get his mail at a post office box to keep his physical home address confidential, maintain an unpublished telephone listing, and take advantage of the system some state motor vehicle bureaus have where they will hide the address associated with an officer’s personal vehicle and driver’s license in a routine inquiry. These are all sound practices, but they’re less effective than was the case in my day, before the proliferation of online data mining services.
Data mining services probe the extensive network of online databases and gather information they then sell to third parties. Unless you go to Unabomber-level “off the grid” measures, there is no practical way to keep your information away from these services. We’ve all got some combination of driver’s licenses, vehicles, real estate, credit card accounts, marriage and birth records, etc. out there, and the companies that hold this information can often increase their profits by selling it.
Even before my first law enforcement job, I was careful to keep my physical address and phone out of the public eye, or so I thought. Until recently, my landline telephone service was through my cable TV provider, and I paid extra each month for an unpublished listing. Imagine my reaction when I got a letter from them advising that they had “unintentionally” included my phone number in a listing of published numbers they sold to a phone directory company. Worse yet, although my bills came to a post office box, the address associated with the number they told everyone about was my physical address, where I got my service. They changed the phone number for free, but they declined to buy my house and move me to another one.
I’ve talked before about the importance of creating strong passwords and watching what information you make available to social networks like Facebook. You can also take steps to limit what information is available through data mining vendors like Zabasearch and PeopleFinders.
• Do a search for your name on any data mining service you can locate and request the service remove your information from their database. Most will comply. There is a list of the major players in this industry, with instructions on how to request exclusion from their listings, here.
While it’s unusual for bad guys to hunt down officers at their homes to terrorize them or their families, it’s not unknown. Don’t make it easy for someone to do so.
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